Three big prestige projects launched by new leader Kim Jong-un are bleeding North Korea dry, exacerbating hardships and squeezing their pockets, according to a South Korean government official.
They are the construction of a ski resort, an equestrian club in Pyongyang and the attempt to turn empty plots of barren land into lawns.
The official said the regime is forcing North Korean diplomats and workers overseas to remit US$300 each to Pyongyang for the construction of the ski resort. It has also told Chongryon, a large pro-Pyongyang Korean organization in Japan, to raise funds. People are being "encouraged" to send gifts to soldiers working on the ski resort, and they have little choice but to comply.
The regime is also pressing many people into labor at the equestrian club and diverting resources that could be better spent elsewhere. It sent senior party officials overseas to sign a deal to buy racehorses worth hundreds of millions of won.
Last year, Kim began a nationwide greening campaign, causing a vast acreage of sod to be laid over barren lots.
The North has established a national "lawn research center" and overseas missions have been told to send grass seeds home. It has urged residents to lay sod over any empty plots in schools and villages.
The source said, "With no sufficient financial resources, the regime is trying to complete Kim Jong-un's signature projects by certain deadlines and people are getting more and more restive."